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Message of LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge at the Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development

"Ecumenical Diakonia - The importance of ecumenical accompaniment for peace-building in the context of diakonia and development", presentation by Rev. Dr Martin Junge, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation at the Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development, Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, 3 – 6 October 2017

05 October 2017

Ecumenical Strategic Forum on Diakonia and Sustainable Development, Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, 3 – 6 October 2017

Ecumenical Diakonia - The importance of ecumenical accompaniment for peace-building in the context of diakonia and development

Presented by Rev. Dr Martin Junge

General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation

 

It is hard to speak after listening to what my two preceding speakers from South Sudan and Colombia have shared regarding their peace engagements at the grassroots level. It is actually humbling to hear all of this. Because indeed, it is one thing to advocate for peace in Geneva, the city of peace, and the peaceful city, or to do it on the ground, where peace is elusive, where fighting is taking place just outside the room and where engaging to foster peace is dangerous. In Geneva, to talk about peace is political mainstream and it is politically correct. Not so in Colombia and South Sudan, where cultures of violence and warfare are so pervasive, that engaging for peace looks foolish

I have deep respect for the work of peace activists, and for what I want to call their “prophetic stubbornness” to hold fast to peace even against all evidence. For their determination not to be derailed from the vision of peace which, in the case of the engagement we just heard, is a matter of faith. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, “God will convert swords to ploughshares” and so many other biblical verses are the ones driving their activism, mobilizing hope and energy, even when everything else speaks against their engagement.

If it was not for people like you and what you do on the ground, I would find it very difficult to claim any public voice, any prophetic role advocating for peace, justice and reconciliation at a global level. It would make my discourse shallow and empty. I would very well be able to speak on my own behalf, but never on behalf of a global communion of churches. It is because my discourse is rooted in actual practices and discourses on the ground that I can speak.

Yet we know also that at times there is leadership required at a global level, to speak out and to push the edges in view of what grassroots are able to do as a way to breaking ground for churches in their context, empowering their own voice in view of the voice raised globally. This was my own experience back in Chile, my home country, during dictatorship, when WCC and LWF spoke out loudly and clearly, often beyond what we would be able to say locally, but very much speaking our mind.

We move as global organizations within this tension and have to discern very carefully what our global public voice represents, both in view of its rootedness in our constituency, and its prophetic, transformative power. We shouldn’t speak just to be right and to be seen as being right; we should speak to get things right, hence to empower process of change and transformation that focus on life in abundance for all.

This is then also the big “advantage” we offer each other as local and global actors: local churches are empowered and supported by a global voice; and our global voice is being validated and legitimized because of its local roots. This is what the ecumenical movement stands for, this is what a communion of churches like the LWF will stand for: it articulates and creates the linkages between the local and the global dimension of being the church. We have concrete experiences as LWF, engaging on behalf of and with local constituencies the UN systems, for instance the UPR, the CEDAW, or concretely engaging, as we do, on peace initiatives in Colombia and South Sudan.

In view of what I have just said, let me come now with three reflections of strategic nature, given the fact that we are gathered here in the Ecumenical Strategic Forum.

1. The first one comes in form of a question: how do we design the platforms and the processes that allow us to connect the dots between the local and the global, which would safeguard engagement and participation of all actors involved so that there is coherence in the “ecumenical system” represented through organizations like ours?

This question relates to a fault line which remains prevalent within our organizations between the different expressions of Diakonia within our systems, and how these different actors connect to each other.

The Malawi consultation mentioned earlier on has made very clear to us that there are concerns and issues from the side of the churches, which have become our agenda in view of how those would be addressed. In my view, we shouldn’t turn the page, nor declare this agenda to be completed, until those who have raised the issues will tell us that it is completed.

The document on “Ecumenical Diakonia” represents a huge step forward, it is full of magnificent potentials to continue answering the questions we need to answer. Because it offers a wide space, within which all the different diaconal expressions and actors should recognize a common ground, it is a good basis to begin the conversation. It offers the theological framework which caters to all the different expressions of Diakonia, be it at the level of congregations, national church, specialized ministries and international organizations.

However, and I’m not taking anybody by surprise with what I will say now, it is not going to solve anything by itself, if what is being mentioned there doesn’t get political traction in view of systems, structures, processes and agendas. Because one thing is to identify the large common ground we have; another one is to begin bridging the gaps between the different diaconal actors, since in many cases churches and other actors in diaconia and humanitarian work "still have a huge distance between them”.

Here I am very keen that we develop a way to engage and include churches, which is mindful of the ecclesial nature of their identity. As I mentioned above: churches are engaged in peace processes as a matter of their faith – not because of any “theory of change” framework. It’s what they read and what they pray, it’s what they hope and what they discern God is calling them to be in their given context which will make them engage or not. The same applies to SDGs, or Gender Justice, for instance: no church will engage in any of it, if not convinced that this truly relates to their participation in God’s mission. Churches have their own grammar, as related agencies, or secular actors have their own too. “How do we bring together the grammar of the churches with the grammar of sustainable development goals? It’s not about pulling over, blurring or washing down each other’s grammar: it is about making systems to talk to each other, to communicate, connect and relate, while preserving their distinctiveness.

I am very thankful for the vision outlined by the new General Secretary of the ACT Alliance in view of an alliance that will be inclusive of churches within its system. There are good strategic reasons for it: it is the existence of grassroots which makes the ecumenical system so powerful (and makes it so attractive in view of the “Religion and Development” agenda). LWF supports this vision, and is doing its own duties already in view of bringing diaconal actors closer together within the communion.

 

2. The second issue I want to address is my conviction that the Religion and Development agenda brings a double task to us as global faith-based organizations, be it an alliance, a fellowship of churches or a communion of churches.

On the one hand, there is a task to the outside: contributing with our own voice to the public discourse wherever issues or processes revolving around peace, justice and reconciliation are being promoted. We have a role there, adding our specific and unique contribution to the public discourse: our roots in concrete realities, and our roots in faith. We should be who we are: Faith-based organizations.

But there is a task to the inside as well. Some few weeks ago I was talking to a retired church leader, sharing about the exiting developments that seem to give much more space to churches and FBO’s to engage in public agendas. He responded: “I wish this kairos had come 20 years earlier. Because nowadays there is a tsunami of very bad theologies flooding into our churches, which is washing away all the ground for the churches to actually claim that public space”.  He then referred to a theology that doesn’t uphold anymore the concept of holistic mission, which includes proclamation, diakonia and advocacy, but focusing only on the salvation of souls. What talk do you want to have about Diakonia, or the opportunity to engage the SDG process, if their only concern is souls? How would you want to address issues of cooperation, if not even other denominations are accepted, let alone other religions? How would you want to launch a global campaign on gender justice, when justice between genders is not given any theological credit or legitimacy?

The experience of the plebiscite on the Colombia peace accords was revealing: it mobilized, and polarized churches because of its strong gender component. Actually, because there was a gender component there, some churches felt the peace agreement should be rejected!

And this is not going on just “out there”, but is also affecting the theological and spiritual discourse of many of our church members.

We have an internal role of ongoing accompaniment and theological discussions with our constituencies. To me, this is closely related to the question of theological education and formation. Because it is there, in the faculty, in the seminar, in the Bible school, where the tracks are laid as to whether churches will understand their mission holistically, hence responding to the call of serving the neighbor, to bring just one of the examples I mentioned before.

And here we have a big problem in the ecumenical movement. Because theological education is under pressure, and institutions even collapsing.

My challenge to related agencies, so keen to ride the wave of Religion and Development today: bring theological education into your radar screen, if what we do out there, at a global level, shall have any roots in local realities in ten years’ time.

 

3. Connected to it, and since my time is over, a very short remark: we need to understand that our call into unity as churches, is a source and inspiration for peace in our times of division and quarreling antagonism. This was our experience after the Joint Commemoration in Lund last year: it spoke to many people, even to many who couldn’t care less about whether churches are coming closer together, but who care about peace and perceived therefore that something profoundly counter-cyclical was happening there.

The Joint Commemoration was only possible because of 50 years of dialogue. That is a long time span. I am grateful that we could engage in this long conversation without having to identify indicators and three-year log frames. This shows eloquently: allowing the church to be the church adds its own strength and value in view of a shared commitment to work towards peace, justice and reconciliation in our world. It is good to have distinct actors contributing to the same goal. As long as they are distinct and not separated.

Thank you.